I recently had the opportunity to visit Guatemala, more specifically the cutting farms of Danziger, Dummen Orange and Syngenta.
These are high health facilities that maintain a way higher standard of hygiene than hospitals in New Zealand. High Health plants free of known virus, bacteria and bacteroides are farmed for cuttings with a peak combined production falling in a ten week period of some 500 million cuttings cut and despatched to growers in the USA.
We are talking annuals and perennials here with growers across the length and breadth of the USA receiving boxes upon boxes of fresh cuttings ready to stick into plugs etc for spring production.
The operations of all three entities are extraordinary in their attention to detail in order to eliminate the possibility of contamination by virus and other pathogens.
Why Guatemala? Favourable geography is a major contributor to the answer.
Utilising the superb year round climate, which is experienced at altitude in this volcanic country located near the equator, is an important factor, along with the close proximity to the USA market and of course a supply of low cost labour.
This aspect had been a concern to me as the country in general is one of extremes. Extreme poverty and extreme wealth, it was always going to be of interest to see how these large international names (one company from Israel, one from the Netherlands and one giant chemical company that has an interest in horticulture originally from Switzerland and now Chinese owned) in Horticulture treated their staff.
The answer was not the same for all of the three but certainly the staff were trained, educated and their health and wellbeing was generally well cared for. So all in all as a general statement, if you had a job with one of these companies you were in a far more favourable position than those who did not.
It was impressive how one of these three in particular provided free health care for not only its 500 workers, but their immediate families as well.
Additionally, all three empowered local people to take responsibility and manage areas of the production and logistics chain.
Logistics are as always as important as the actual horticultural cutting production as it is an extreme exercise in care and haste to get highly vulnerable tip cuttings to customers located all over the extensive width and breadth of the USA. They achieve delivery within 48 hours using predominately Fed-Ex couriers, and utilizing a range of different boxes, often with compartments for cooler packs inserted to ensure the correct temperature is maintained while in transit.
However, to put all of this impressive production into perspective, we need to note that Guatemala is but one production location for elite material.
Facilities such as those that I visited are replicated in Mexico, Costa Rica, San Salvador and Africa, and this is not the entire list.
Perhaps the most unique feature of this great opportunity to visit Guatemala was that we were invited to visit facilities operated by three competing companies. This does not usually happen.